What's your computing sweet spot?

A discussion on our preferences for personal computing. What's your go-to device?
Written by Scott Raymond, Inactive

The System, by Rosscott

Today I'd like to do something a bit different. Instead of just presenting a topic and then expounding upon it, I would like to open up the topic to discussion. The topic today is the computing technology sweet spot.

The great part about this subject is that everyone has their own personal preferences. Some people prefer a laptop as their primary computing device. Some people prefer a desktop. Others, like me, prefer multiple devices based on need and usage.

By opening the subject for discussion, rather than presenting a static opinion on the subject, I hope to encourage other people to consider devices and technologies that are outside their comfort zone. I'll be providing my own devices and usage as an example.

Let's start with your primary computing device. Here in the Raymond household, my wife and I use our laptops as primary devices. Several years ago I primarily used my desktop system with Windows 7, and I realized that I was sequestering myself in the second bedroom/office instead of spending time with my wife--she was sitting on the couch with her MacBook Pro. I also had a separate server running FreeBSD.

Maintaining a desktop and a laptop as dual primary devices increases the amount of work you need to do in order to maintain them. You have to update the apps on both systems, and if you don't have your documents and data on cloud storage or centralized storage, you need to duplicate that as well.

When I migrated my primary device to my laptop, I converted my desktop workstation into a Ubuntu desktop/server system, migrated the data over to it from the FreeBSD box, and shut down the FreeBSD box. Running fewer machines 24/7 also cut down on our utilities bills.

I should also note that I use my Samsung Galaxy Tab a great deal. Depending on the situation, I will use it even more than my laptop. I do not see it as a permanent replacement for my laptop, simply due to some tasks that really require more robust processing power, a full keyboard, and a desktop OS.

Let's break this down even further. On the desktop side, I prefer to have a beefy system with a powerful CPU, good graphics, and tons of storage--preferably in a high performance RAID confirguation. After I switched over to a laptop as my primary device, I actually downgraded some of the components to reduce my electricity usage further, as detailed in the article I wrote on the subject last year.

If it wasn't for the need to occasionally run other operating systems in a virtualized environment, I might even reduce the footprint server and use a mini server and external storage, such as a Drobo device.

My laptop needs have been pretty static over the years. I prefer small, light laptops with decent power and storage; they should be powerful enough to run games like Word of Warcraft. I've always been enamored by really compact laptops, preferably IBM/Lenovo ThinkPads.

In the past, I have owned the IBM ThinkPad 701c, the ThinkPad 240X, and the Thinkpad X200. Since then, I have been somewhat disappointed with the decline in quality of the Lenovo line, and recently purchased a MacBook Air 11 and installed Windows 7 on it.

I admit that it's an affectation. I know that I can get a more powerful system for less money, although the systems would tend to be larger and heavier. For me, the laptop sweet spot is a laptop with enough power to do what I need, under 3 lbs, an 11" screen and a decent-sized keyboard. Very few laptops meet this criteria, which is why I stuck with the ThinkPad line for so long.

There are, of course, other manufacturers that make laptops meeting these specifications, but quality and design also play a large part--hence my ending up spending more money and buying a MacBook Air.

[What about the mobile platform?]»

Finally, the mobile platform. On the smartphone side, I need a device that can be a good phone, play music, run many apps, handle light internet browsing, and be used a tethered modem or wifi access point for a laptop or tablet.

My first smartphone was a Blackberry Pearl, followed by a BlackBerry Curve and a BlackBerry Bold. Eventually I realized that RIM was letting its BlackBerry line stagnate, and I switched to the Google Android platform, settling on a T-Mobile G2 smartphone.

Also, from my recent articles it has become quite obvious that I am a big fan of the Android platform on tablet devices. The Samsung Galaxy Tab meets my needs for a tablet in terms of size and functionality. Admittedly, it's not quite what it should be; Google has said that the Android 2.2 OS is not meant for tablets.

I will be attempting to install the Android 3.0 operating system on my tablet, and will likely report back on how well it works. Of course, when the new dual core tablets hit the market, I will consider upgrading to one of them. I will, of course, take a wait and see approach before spending hundreds of dollars on a new tablet.

The convenience of a tablet has made it possible for me to do the majority of my personal computing experience without needing to open up my laptop. It's not a complete replacement, but it is capable of handling most tasks I need to accomplish. On my last vacation, I took only my phone and tablet with me and left the laptop at home. That's fodder for a future article on the digital vacation.


  • What's your primary computing device, and why?
  • Do you have more than one primary device? Home server?
  • What is your preference for a desktop platform? Laptop platform? Mobile device?
  • Have your device preferences changed over the years, or remained static?
  • What device(s) do you see yourself using 5 years from now?
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